Intellectual property rights & licensing

What do I need to know about Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)? (Who ‘owns’ the research data?)

By default the University asserts ownership over the research data collected by academics (or co-ownership with third parties), unless alternative arrangements have been agreed (e.g. by a separate written contract).

Please see the University’s Intellectual Property (IP) Policy for further details. IPR may have an impact on what licence(s) you release the data under.

What do I need to know about licensing?

A licence grants other people / organisations permission to use your research data under certain conditions. Therefore, sharing your research data and making it open access ‘under licence’ allows others to reuse it, while also allowing the University to (typically) retain the IPR of the data and ensuring that you and the University are fully credited for its creation.

There are two aspects you need to consider when thinking about licensing:

  1. How you apply a licence to your own research data to enable it to be shared.
  2. When re-using someone else's research data, what are the implications of any licence that’s been placed on it? 

If you are ever in any doubt about licences, please contact

This raises the question of which licence to apply to your research data? The default rule is that you should use a suitably permissive licence, unless you’ve got a good reason to use a more restrictive licence.

For example, the Creative Commons ‘Attribution’ (CC BY) licence is commonly used, which allows other people to re-use and adapt your research data, but they must provide an attribution back to you (and the University) as being the original producers. This licence does not put any restriction on the data being used for commercial purposes.

If your research is externally funded or conducted as part of a contractual agreement, then you also need to check the terms and conditions of your funders/contract. In the case of contracts, there may be restrictions on whether or not you can actually share your data and the licence you can apply.  Or, for example, if you are funded by RCUK then they have expressed a strong preference towards the CC-BY licence. 

If your research is not externally funded or not conducted as part of a contractual agreement, then it falls under the University of Portsmouth’s Research Data Policy, which expresses a strong preference towards the CC BY licence.

When re-using someone else’s data, if it has a licence applied (which it probably will have) then you need to respect the conditions of the licence. For example, if it has the CC BY-NC licence then you must publicly acknowledge (e.g. in your research article) the original source of the data and you must not use this research data for commercial purposes (see below). The licence already applied to any data that you re-use can also affect the licencing under which you can share your work onwards.

So in terms of how you actually release your data under a licence, this is actually very simple. Once you’ve selected your licence (see list below), you would typically write your licence both on the metadata record for your data and in a sensible place within the data itself (e.g. in a header / footer). This is normally a statement that data is released under the chosen licence, which will include a link to the full text of the licence itself.

This is an example text for licensing statement:

"This dataset is made available under the Creative Commons Licence Attribution 4.0 International v4.0 (CC BY 4.0). Full details of the licence can be found at"

Summary list of licence types:

Standard licences

Creative Commons (CC) - The most common and widely used type of licensing for most forms of original content and data. Simple and robust. Combination of attribution (CC BY), share-alike (-SA), no derivatives (-ND) (no altering) and non-commercial (-NC) aspects.

Under the CC licences there is also a Public Domain (CC(0)) licence, although this is rarely used for research data.

Open Data Commons - aimed at databases.

Open / Non-commercial Government Licence - UK public sector and government resources.

Prepared Licences

You may be required to apply a prepared licence. For example, depositors at the UK Data Service will need to sign a licence agreement as part of the deposition process. Safeguarded/controlled data can be made available under bespoke licensing options that apply access restrictions to data. For example, see the UK Data Service Data Access Policy page for more information.

Multiple licences

Used where no one licence is entirely satisfactory. Often use with open source software.

Bespoke licences

Normally the standard licences cover all requirements. However, if you require a bespoke licence you will need to contact the Contracts & Post Award Team in Research & Innovation Services ( (As noted earlier, if you are sharing sensitive or confidential data externally, you will need to put a data sharing agreement in place.)

(Source: adapted from Ball, A. (2014). ‘How to License Research Data’. DCC How-to Guides. Edinburgh: Digital Curation Centre. Available online: